The Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) has issued new recommendations about how people with MS should adjust their daily lives because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The MSIF, a network of national MS societies from around the world, first issued COVID-19 recommendations last spring. But much has been learned about the virus since then, including how it affects people with MS. The new recommendations address whether MS leads to complications with the virus, and whether it’s advisable to be treated with disease-modifying therapies during the pandemic.
Are people with MS affected differently than healthy people?
According to the MSIF, the answer is apparently not, although there are exceptions.
“The latest data is reassuring that people are not at a greater risk of contracting the virus or developing severe symptoms just because they have MS,” Clare Walton, head of research and access at MSIF, told me in an email.
But the updated recommendations add to the list of those with MS who are thought to have an increased risk of more severe cases of COVID-19. Previously, the list of those at higher risk included people with progressive MS, those with a score of 6 or higher on the Expanded Disability Status Scale, and people over 60. The new recommendations add to that men with MS, Black people and possibly South Asians with MS, people with MS who are obese or have diabetes, and those being treated with some disease-modifying therapies.
DMTs and COVID-19
An MSIF press release describes one change regarding disease-modifying therapies as “critical.” Some research indicates that DMTs targeting CD20 cells — specifically, ocrelizumab and rituximab — appear to be linked to an increased chance of someone with MS being hospitalized or requiring intensive care treatment if infected with the virus.
On the other hand, preliminary evidence indicates that interferons may reduce the need for hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Natalizumab has been moved into the group of DMTs considered to have no apparent risks.
Overall, the guidelines still recommend that “people with MS currently taking DMTs continue with their treatment, unless advised to stop by their treating clinician.”
Those who have tested positive for COVID-19, or who have begun to show symptoms, should discuss MS therapies with their healthcare provider, the guidelines state.
We should all be familiar by now with basic COVID-19 advice for the general public, such as the importance of wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing. In terms of the latter, the federation states that people should follow national guidelines in their home countries.
Also, the MSIF states that people receiving high-dose steroids should socially isolate for one month because evidence shows they are at a higher risk of more severe COVID-19.
What about a vaccine?
With the hopeful news that a COVID-19 vaccine could be close at hand, the question arises about whether people with MS should be inoculated. The MSIF recommendations only say there’s not yet enough information about how a vaccine might interact with MS or the various DMTs to be certain. This advice will be included in an update as soon as it becomes available.
Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine if approved by health authorities? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, but let’s leave politics out of the answers. Consider it only from a health perspective. You’re also invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.
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